2024 COES Design and Research Conference

Physics Senior Projects

Integrated Engineering and Science Building 308.

1:00 p.m.

Developing Metal-organic and Organic Working Scintillator Materials

Team Member: Ethan Jamerson

Sponsor: LaSpace, National Science Foundation

In modern particle physics, one key tool often used to analyze particles and their interactions are scintallors; these are materials that fluoresce when struck by high energy particles, allowing for the detection of particle interactions by measuring the emitted light from the scintillating material. However, one issue with modern scintillators is the lack of variety in available materials, leading to a reduced measuring capacity as certain properties cannot be correctly measured. One solution is the synthesis of new scintillating materials that can cover these measurement gaps created by a lack of variety, especially in regards to the rise time and the relaxation period of the material. To create these materials, our group synthesized and characterized a variety of lanthanide based compounds, using the fluorometer to identify the potential of each compound as a scintillator, then characterizing the compound using infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. In this search for new materials, one consistent issue we found is the solubility of the compounds involved; for instance, our attempts to create bismuth based compounds were unsuccessful due to the lack of solubility that is often present with bismuth. Similarly, attempts to create materials using organic compounds were often unsuccessful due to the molecule’s insolubility, this property also affected the creation of polymers doped with these materials, as resultant polymers did not absorb the compounds. One solution to this is to use different reaction methods, such as mechano-chemistry, another may be to modify the molecules so that they become more soluble in the solutions used.

1:30 p.m. 

A modeling and simulation workflow for the comparative analysis of chromatin folding

Team Member: Mac Sandel, Dylan Ward

Nucleosomes are protein-DNA complexes that serve as the structural building block of chromatin(Olins 2003). Chromatin is the biomaterial that houses the genomes of all higher organisms. After extensive efforts to characterize chromatin folding by various theoretical, computational, and experimental methods, scientists still struggle to identify the rules that govern the folding of nucleosomes into chromatin(Ozer 2015). Recently, an X-ray structure of 354 base pairs of DNA associated with two nucleosomes, each containing a linker histone, was determined(Adhireksan 2021). This structure provides a starting point for exploring how the topological constraints imposed on circular DNA alter the structure and dynamics of free nucleosomes. For this purpose, we conducted and compared implicit solvent all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of the following systems: DiNuc+LK, DiNuc-LK, NucA+LK, NucA-LK, NucB+Lk, NucB-LK. Here, the designation +/-LK indicates whether or not the system contains nucleosomes. The system names designate the full dinucleosome structure on closed, circular DNA, DiNuc; the nucleosome associated with base pairs 1-177, NucA; the nucleosome associated with base pairs 178 to 354, NucB. Each structure was determined from protein data bank entry 7COW. The analysis seeks to establish the efficiency of our workflow, the stability of the implicit solvent simulation methods, and comparative metrics for assessing the structure and dynamics of the nucleosomes as a function of DNA sequence, the presence of linker histones, and topological constraints. We expect the linker DNA that joins nucleosomes to exhibit significantly different dynamical properties depending on the presence or absence of linker histones and/or topological constraints.

 2:00 p.m.

Spectral Analysis of Nearby Celestial Bodies

Team Member: Steven Anderson

Sponsor: Louisiana Tech Physics Program

This project focused on acquiring and analyzing the spectra of nearby stars to calibrate the newly refurbished Louisiana Tech Observatory. We systematically observed a selection of stars within a few hundred light-years from Earth using ground-based telescopes equipped with advanced spectrographs. The primary aim was to extract information about their compositions and temperatures by examining the absorption lines in their spectra. Through careful calibration and data processing, we were able to identify the chemical fingerprints of various elements, enabling a comprehensive assessment of stellar atmospheres and chemical abundances. This analysis also facilitated the growth of knowledge in the department of how to analyze spectra and use of equipment, and more broadly, the project’s findings have significant implications for astrophysics, enhancing our understanding of stellar formation, evolution, and the distribution of elements in the galaxy. By mapping the properties of nearby stars, this research lays the groundwork for future studies using our observatory and broadening our program’s outreach and publicity.

2:30 p.m. 

An Analysis of Natural Gas Usage within Pulp and Paper Manufacturing

Team Member: Zach Thomas

Sponsor: Westrock

The paper comprehensively analyzes natural gas consumption in a paper mill environment. The study focuses on understanding natural gas distribution and utilization patterns across various equipment within the mill. A detailed examination of energy-intensive processes, such as pulping and drying, is conducted to identify opportunities for optimizing natural gas usage and improving overall energy efficiency. Experimental data, including gas consumption rates and production metrics, are analyzed to assess the impact of different operational parameters on energy efficiency. The results reveal key insights into the variability of natural gas usage across different phases of paper production. The findings of this study provide valuable information for developing targeted strategies to enhance energy sustainability in paper mills, emphasizing the potential for reducing environmental impact and operational costs.

3:00 p.m.


3:30 p.m. 

Inside a Fusion Reactor

Team Member: Dylan Cain

As nuclear fusion becomes more prominent in the coming decades as an energy source, it is essential to have a better understanding of it to ensure that it does not end up having adverse effects on the environment, similar to fission reactors. It is essential to look into this because the aforementioned brother of nuclear fusion, fission, among its reactors, has led to two different areas being completely uninhabitable for at least a century. As such, the purpose of this presentation is to provide a comprehensive look into nuclear fusion along with some of the countless ways it can be performed in reactors here on earth, along with looking out for any potential pitfalls that might come from fusion reactors in their current forms. The research has led to the conclusion that under the best conditions, fusion reactors should fulfill the goal of being a safe, clean energy.

 4:00 p.m.

Carbon Quantum Dot-Based Heavy Metal Sensor

Team Members: Jared Melseth, Jonathan Tairov, Yashodara Ekanayaka

Heavy metal pollution poses a significant risk to our health and environment. Heavy metals can often be toxic, even in minimal doses. Therefore, it is essential to track the presence of heavy metals in the environment, such as in water or soil. However, traditional methods of identifying these contaminants are often costly and require specialized workers. Carbon quantum dots (CQDs) pose a cost-effective method of heavy metal detection by utilizing their fluorescent properties. In this project, we investigated the effects of copper pollutants on CQDs’ fluorescence. We synthesized CQDs by a one-pot hydrothermal reaction of citric acid and ethylenediamine. We measured the fluorescence of our CQDs and the change in fluorescence in the presence of copper salt. We found that we could identify the concentration of copper within the 1-25 mM range. To better enable access to this kind of technology, a cheap, portable measurement system will also be created and tested. Creating more access to pollutant sensing technology could enable people worldwide to make more informed decisions by taking samples more consistently. This could help manage ecological disasters before they become widespread.

4:30 p.m. 

Effects of Zn2+ Ions on Protein Structure

Team Member: Tyler Warzynak

Sponsor: Air Force Research Lab

Project Description: Recently, interest has grown in a special protein found in Nereis virens, a species of marine worm. This worm contains the protein Nvjp-1 and one of the primary components of this protein – histidine – has been theorized to have a significant role in the mechanical properties of Nvjp-1. Specifically, the presence of Zn2+ ions seems to create metal-coordinated, cross-linked bonds that significantly strengthen the hardness of the material. This project uses two supplementary methods: DFT calculations to closely investigate the binding energies of Zn2+ ions on the atomic level and MD simulations to study the overall binding process. This includes identifying favorable binding sites for Zn2+ ions and observing the effects of different counterions on binding.